New York Music Daily

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Tag: gypsy rock

A Deliciously Creepy Free Download from Orphan Jane

Orphan Jane have what they call “demos” of their upcoming album available as a free download at their Soundcloud page. These “demos” are sonically superior to what most other bands release as a final album. And this circus rock band’s songs are creepy! Their sound is rustic noir cabaret with jaunty but sinister vaudevillian overtones, and theatrics that can be silly one moment and disquieting the next.

They mine the inner desperation in Alabama Song for all it’s worth with Bob Desjardin’s pulsing bass, Tim Cluff’s swirly accordion, Dave Zydalis’ biting, skronk-tinged guitar and Jess Underwood’s dramatic, stagy vocals: by the end, she’s gone from whiskey bars to pretty boys to simply scrounging for cash. Likewise, they take Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere and max out the surrealism: Underwood sells the absurdist intrigue of lines like “Buy me a flute and a gun that shoots, tailgates and substitutes, drop yourself at a tree with roots” as perfectly natural.

But the originals here are the best. Lost Mind, a menacing minor-key tune, builds from a sarcastically whiny, Broadwayesque verse to an explosive choir of voices on the chorus – it reminds a bit of Brooklyn circus rockers Not Waving But Drowning. Mansion Song is a vividly scampering Roaring 20s noir cabaret song with uneasy Hawaiian-tinged steel guitar and a strange tale of wrongdoing and karmic payback among the idle classes. Underwood sings the sad, pretty waltz Still Life with a bitterly nostalgic edge: it ramps up the klezmer influence even more than the previous tune.

The most vaudevillian number is Hole in the Head, a bizarre duet between Underwood and Zydalis: he seems to be a quack doctor, she likes a smoke and a pill and some wine as a chaser, you think you can guess the rest but you really can’t. The indignantly strutting murder ballad that ends the playlist is the only song here that sounds more like a demo than a finished take, but it’s still an entertaining story, and it’s reason to look forward to hearing the genuine article when it’s a wrap.

A Carnivalesque Masterpiece from Kotorino

The cover photo on Kotorino‘s new album Better Than This shows an empty antique couch beneath a bright, mostly cloudless afternoon sky. It’s a considerably sunnier picture than the ones frontman/guitarist Jeff Morris’ songs paint, although the implied solitude is telling. Kotorino began life back in the mid-zeros as a creepy chamber-pop ensemble with something of a steampunk edge, which Morris has pretty much ditched for an even creepier, considerably more muscular circus rock ambience. He is as adept at latin music as he is at noir cabaret, with both styles represented all over the place here. If it’s still possible for there to be such a thing as a “breakthrough album,” this is Kotorino’s – the gypsy rock crowd, the oldtimey swing crowd, the noir contingent and fans of nuevo tango all get plenty to enjoy here. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp page.

The opening track, What Is This Thing is a tango, Morris joining with his Charming Disaster femme fatale foil Ellia Bisker and the rest of the women in the band (tuba player Liz Prince, violinist Estelle Bajou and singer Molly White) for some pretty otherworldly vocal harmonies:

She put him on like a pair of fuzzy slippers
He let her down like a broken elevator…
They were packing it up and saving it for later
She was sleeping in the tub til they got some sunny weather
He was smoking again just to take a little breather

They wrap it up with a wry Dell Shannon quote and a big brassy outro.

North Star State is Morris at his enigmatic best: who are the guy and girl in this oldtimey-flavored duet looking for, and is that person alive or dead? The music is equally clever: endless volleys of counterpoint between the horns, bass and tuba and eventually a big carnivalesque brass-band coda. Going Out Tonight, a picturesque tale of a guy hellbent on springing his girlfriend from a mental ward somewhere in the Midwest, has a devious minor-key pulse: “Come with me for some rebellious exercise,”  Morris grins. He and Bisker duet on the album’s best and most menacing track, Murderer, a lurid crime-jazz number that illustrates why the perfect crime requires a lone perpetrator.

Never Had a Chance, a cha-cha in 7/4 time, is the liveliest and most surreal track here, packed with droll touches like breaks for fingersnaps and bass, a brief but momentous bass sax solo from Gato Loco‘s Stefan Zeniuk and a blazing Jesse Selengut trumpet solo out over an oompah groove.  Morris and Bisker get deceptively chaerming and blithe on the East River Ferry Waltz, before Morris lays on the cynicism – which turns out to have lethal implications, if you pay attention. They follow that with the morose chamber-pop tune Broken Carousel, another waltz, buildling to an unexpectedly savage Morris guitar solo and a big, majestically orchestrated crescendo.

The album’s title track is a nebulous, coldly ambiguous solo piano ballad. They wrap it up with Into the Sky, the album’s most phantasmagorical, epically sweeping song, pulling out all the stops for a cruelly cynical faux-gospel bridge, equally sarcastic girl-group harmonies and a typically blazing horn arrangement. As darkly evocative art-rock goes in 2013, it doesn’t get any better than this: watch for it on the “best albums of the year page” here in about a month.

Best Halloween Show of 2013: Carol Lipnik, Villa Delirium, Big Lazy and Mamie Minch

Is there a style of music that John Kruth can’t play? On Halloween, he brought his witty, ghoulish circus-rock band Villa Delirium to Barbes on a triplebill that was as darkly entertaining as it promised to be. Vllla Delirium are as eclectic as Kruth’s other project, Tribecastan but more grounded in classic Americana than the Middle Eastern, Romany and Central Asian sounds that kitchen-sink instrumental unit explores. As the band name implies, there’s a gleefully dark humor to most of Villa Delirium’s songs. This time out, Kruth switched between mandolin, acoustic guitar and wood flute, alongside the band’s not-so-secret weapon, Tine Kindermann on vocals and singing saw, plus Kenny Margolis on accordion and multi-keys and Doug Wieselman on bass clarinet and mandolin.

Kruth kicked off the night with one of a handful of canivalesque waltzes, followed by the surreeal La Vie de Madame Tussaud, sung in French by Kindermann, with the first of several shivery, sepulchral saw solos. A little later on, she sang the Doors’ Crystal Ship in German, its creepy Weimar psychedelics enhanced by a minimoog solo where Margolis played through a choir patch, adding an uber-goth edge.

Kruth grinningly delivered a mash note to a flirtatious ghost who was hot in her time over Message to You Rudie riffage, followed by the first of a handful of pretty country waltzes, a klezmer-tinged tune and then Kindermann’s Russian/klezmer spoof Nyet Is All You’ll Ever Get. They went a little further west to the Balkans for a murderous tale about the Countess Bathory, who reputedly bathed in virgins’ blood as a medieval precursor to botox. Then they did their funniest song of the night, a droll waltz sung by Kruth that twisted the story of the pied piper into a cautionary tale about how you should never stiff a musician.

A wistful, Celtic-tinged accordion waltz evoked Rachelle Garniez; a little later, they got the audience singing along on the swinging blues tune Calling the Monster Back Home, then the barrelhouse Jerry Lee-style anthem Turning up the Burners in Satan’s Steakhouse with Margolis rocking the piano keys. They wound up their set with the psych-folk waltz What Is the Moon on Tonight: “What is the moon on, mescaline or blow, and where can I get some, I just wanna know,” Kruth deadpanned. He was so taken by Wieselman’s first spiky, rapidfire mandolin solo that he asked for another one and presumably got what he wanted; the crowd roared for more.

Probably because the music was so good, the amateurs didn’t show up until late in headliners Big Lazy‘s second set, and by then it was past midnight. By then, guitarist Steve Ulrich, Andrew Hall (first chair bassist of the Greenwich Village Orchestra) and drummer Yuval Lion had stalked their way through murderous back-alley crime jazz romps, a couple of western swing-tinged blue-sky themes, slasher skronk and a pitchblende lament or two. The most spine-tingling moment of the night was when Mamie Minch came up to join them for a Lynchian version of Crazy. Most women who cover the song sing it whimsically, or bittersweetly; Minch sang it as if it had happened to her and she was living the cruel aftermath, working her way up to the top of her register and then eventually taking a long slide down into her moody alto, adding the occasional, flickering, bluesy melisma as the band tiptoed through the mist behind her. And Minch’s talents aren’t limited to reinventing the Americana songbook; she’s also adept at repairing guitars. She’s recently hung out her own shingle: if you’ve dropped your vintage Martin on the peg and split it down the back, she knows how to get it back in shape.

And Carol Lipnik and Spookarama, who would have been an equally good choice of headliner, opened the night, the chanteuse wowing the crowd with her four-octave range as she sang with an otherworldly resonance through her trusty echo pedal. Pianist Dred Scott played circus blues, noir jazz and hypnotic, Asian-tinged minimalism over Tim Luntzel’s slinky bass as Lipnik ran through a mix of phantasmagorical favorites and the darkly enigmatic, hypnotic songs she’s recently been adding to her repertoire. Right before her encore, she quoted Rumi, which pretty much spoke for itself: “My shadow is only as beautiful as your candle.”

Tribecastan Rocks the NY Gypsy Festival

The New York Gypsy Festival is still going on: there’s a ton of pretty wild, eclectic stuff happening through the end of the month, most of it at Drom under the loose rubric of Romany music. Tonight’s show featured kitchen-sink instrumentalists Tribecastan, who have four albums to their credit and literally span the globe, stylistically speaking. But onstage, the massive ten-piece band came across as a high-voltage circus rock act, driven more by horns than by the layers and layers of exotic stringed instruments they employ in the studio. What’s the likelihood of seeing Matt Darriau two nights in a row in two vastly different places? Not bad, if you know where to go. He was onstage here, playing clarinet and alto sax alongside a trombone, cornet, bass, drums, multi-percussion and multi-keys, with the band’s flamboyant frontman, John Kruth, firing off sizzling runs on electric mandolin when he wasn’t on mandola, banjo or flute. The other member of the band’s brain trust, Jeff Greene, stood nonchalantly in the corner, switching from a banjo-like lute that he sat and bowed, to what looked like a cajon with keys, to vibraphone (and was sadly not very high in the mix throughout the show.

They opened with a vigorously vamping soul organ groove and wound up with a couple of long, hypnotically funky, distantly Central Asian-tinged jams, the latter with a mantra delivered ecstaticaly by Kruth as he fervently egged on his bandmates to take the song completely over the edge. It took the festival’s prime mover, Serdar Ilhan, to finally give an emphatic signal that it was time for the next band. As psychedelic as all of this was, the songs in the middle of the set were the best. A similarly hypnotic, flute-driven waltz featured a rap interlude that didn’t go anywhere, but the tricky, reed-driven Macedonian-flavored dance afterward did. They followed that with an unexpectedly quiet detour and then an absolutely haunting, brooding bolero, Darriau’s alto sax hitting a big crescendo early on, Greene’s flute against fluttering, interwoven reeds as Kruth anchored it with his spiky banjo lines.

Greene open the next number with a droll jawharp solo, then the song built to an anthemic disco groove, something akin to Hazmat Modine (a band these guys often resemble) destroying a song by Chic. They took that vibe to the Balkans with a reggae-ish pulse, then hit the show’s high point with The Road to Koprivnica, another brooding but lively bolero with some sizzling clarinet from Darriau and even more sizzling, spiraling, intensely Middle Eastern electric mando from Kruth. The drummer broke his snare on the woozy but hard-rocking surf song Communist Modern – a standout track from the band’s latest album New Songs from the Old Country – then went as deep into the funk as you can go in, say, Uzbekhistan. Which is the irony of this band: if they actually were from Uzbekhistan instead of New York, all the blogs would be going nuts over how postmodern and paradigm-shifting this band is. Where this band needs to be, if they can afford it, is the jamband circuit and some summer festivals, where the hippie kids would go nuts over them as well.

An Explosive Debut by Ukrainian Sensation DakhaBrakha at CUNY

Last night Kiev band DakhaBrakha made their US debut at CUNY’s Elebash Hall to a sold-out crowd that screamed for more and practically wouldn’t let them leave the stage. Word is out: this four-piece punk-folk-circus-rock band makes Gogol Bordello look like slow, lazy slugs by comparison. They began and ended the set with wailing, explosively percussive arrangements of Ukrainian folk songs driven by the heavy-artillery thud of singer Olena Tsibulska’s bass drum. Considering how they managed to fill the hall with just their searing, otherworldly four-part harmonies and lots of percussion on several of the songs was impressive, to say the least.

Given the band’s origins in subversive Ukrainian theatre, it’s no surprise that humor is a big part of their act. Singer/percussionist/accordionist Marko Halanevych had the audience in stitches with Baby, his falsetto, half-English, half-Ukrainian parody of schlocky “r&b” radio pop. They put a hip-hop beat on a handful of ancient songs, the surrealism of those mashups enhanced by the keening close harmonies of the vocals and the frequently droning melodies, which gave the songs a menacing edge. Their more lighthearted numbers brought to mind quirk-rockers the Debutante Hour (which might be less unlikely a comparison than you might first think, considering that Maria Sonevytsky from that band is of Ukrainian descent). Cellist Nina Garenetska ran her cello through a series of effects, beginning with a growly distorted tone, then adding delay and reverb for an echoey resonance as she swooped up the scale into witchy, stratospheric harmonics. A couple of long anthems slunk along on a Middle Eastern snakecharmer groove as the voices built to a dark, carnivalesque counterpoint. A couple of other numbers had the repetitive dancefloor thud of Eastern European turbo-folk – but with a heavier bottom end, and real swing from the murky depths of Tsibulska’s drum!

And they’re great musicians. Halanevych and singer Iryna Kovalenko – who also played accordion, piano, jaw harp, and an evilly trilling reed instrument – passed a garmoshka (sort of the Ukrainian equivalent of a bandoneon) back and forth. Everybody drummed at one point or another, an effect that was often as mysterious as it was hypnotically energizing. DakhaBrakha translates from the Ukraininan as “give-and-take,” with all that phrase implies, a good name for a band that works dynamics as artfully as they do. For all the fireworks, there was a lot of subtlety in how they brought their simple, catchy but harmonically-rich melodies up gently and then set them alight with a gleeful grin.

This CUNY concert series is fantastic. They’ve got Malian guitar shredder Vieux Farka Toure (Ali’s kid) here on Oct 29 at 7, then an otherwordly but invigorating bill of music from across the Sephardic diaspora featuring the NY Andalus Ensemble on Nov 5.

Sarah Alden Puts Out a Darkly Sizzling String Band Album

On one hand, Sarah Alden’s new Fists of Violets is sort of the new Luminescent Orchestrii album. The co-founder of that dark, sometimes carnivalesque Balkan ensemble has her bandmates, bassist Benjy Fox-Rosen and multi-instrumentalists Rima Fand and Sxip Shirey, alongside her in addition to first-call accordionist Patrick Farrell and Nation Beat drummer Scott Kettner. On the other hand, this album puts the violinist front and center on a searingly diverse mix of original and traditional songs and instrumentals from two continents. Alden is one of those rare musicians who can play pretty much any style of music and channel any emotion she wants; she embraces Americana as vividly and expertly she does Eastern European sounds, all the while adding her own signature, counterintuitive style. That eclecticism extends to her songwriting and choice of cover material as well. The album is full of surprises: Alden does just about everything differently than you would expect.

It begins with a surprisingly funky take of the old Appalachian ballad Dink’s Tune and ends with the coy, innuendo-fueled accordion waltz Come Take a Trip on My Airship. One of the best and most original songs here is the title track, acoustic Balkan punk rock with Alden and Fand’s violins playing Philip Glass-like broken chords over noirish changes. They follow that with Aunt Viola’s Waltz, a starkly beautiful, pulsing, elegaic, Appalachian-tinged homage to the woman who first taught Alden the violin.

Ida Red, a brisk western swing stomp, brings to mind the Knitters (X doing their oldtime country music side project). Other Balkan bands might likely rock the hell out of Niz Banju Idem, but Alden and her crew attack it with restraint and by doing that make it all the more plaintive and otherworldly, capping it off with a long, wailing Farrell accordion solo. Alden’s unaffectedly bittersweet maple-amber voice brings out every bit of creepy southern gothic apocalypticism in their slowly shuffling take of When Sorrows Encompass Me Round. Then she cuts loose on the oldtimey noir stoner swing tune Willie the Weeper, the most carnivalesque song here, Shirey’s tremolo-picking on the banjo leading up to a long, ominously hypnotic outro. Alden turns in a a jaunty voice-and-piano duo version of Old Man Moon and follows that with the sizzling noir bluegrass romp Ruby Honey Are You Mad at Me, Shirey’s steel guitar spiraling out of the sky in one of the album’s more memorably dramatic moments. There are too many other moments like that to count here: this is one of 2013′s best.

Kotorino Turns Joe’s Pub Into a Dark Carnival

Right now Brooklyn’s Kotorino are as exciting as any other creepy, carnivalesque band in the world. Having seen Mucca Pazza, Rosin Coven, Rasputina and several others in that vein over the past few months, Kotorino are as lush and menacing as any of them – and they just keep growing. Earlier this evening at Joe’s Pub there were eight other musicians alongside frontman/guitarist Jeff Morris, whose brooding, rakish persona and disquietingly surreal narratives were fleshed out with majestic four-part harmonies, ominous noir vamps and tensely mysterious interludes punctuated by unexpected leaps and dives from throughout the band. This time out, immediately to Morris’ right on ukulele and percussion was Elia Bisker, who plays his dangerously torchy foil in the considerably quieter but equally menacing duo Charming Disaster. Among the rest of the players in the three-piece string section, horns, rhythm section and singing saw were violinist Molly White, bassist Mike Brown, drummer Jerome Morris (Jeff’s jazzy brother), trumpeter Jesse Selengut and low-register reedman Stefan Zeniuk (of psycho mambo band Gato Loco).

Morris’ songs range from noir cabaret to chamber pop and circus rock, with frequent latin and Romany influences. As the band has gotten bigger, the sound has grown louder. They opened the show with a noir mambo and ended with a tango about suicide. In between, they varied their dynamics, throughly rich arrangements with spine-tingling harmonies from the women and one trick ending after another. They began the surreal, probably symbolically loaded hot-air balloon epic Oh My God with a balmy but foreboding lushness, rising to an understated angst fueled by a simmering salsa groove. The next song was a dark cabaret narrative told from the point of view of a guy imagining all the fun he’s going to have after he springs his girlfriend out of the loony bin

A similarly shadowy, worrisome waltz was written for a Fringe Festival show, Morris explained – which says a lot about where these songs come from. This one ostensibly told the story of a cop, “a man in a long black car.” The one before that reminded of fellow Brooklyn art-rockers the Snow with its pulsing minor-key, chromatically bristling tune and its story about a girl who made some kind of promise before falling asleep – or something like sleep – on the kitchen floor. Bisker duetted with Morris on a torchy, jaunty but pensive oldtime swing-tinged song lit up by more of those gorgeous vocal harmonies and a similarly torchy Selengut solo. Then Morris switched to the piano for a brooding number that bookended a graceful art-rock anthem with a nebulously morose, lingering intro and outro.

“What is this mess that we call love?” the women sang on another jaunty swing number, like the Moonlighters on steroids – it was the most carnivalesque number of the night. The night’s most lavish, epic number was Williamsburg Suits, which could be a subtle, musically retro attack on fashion trends or gentrification, or both. Morris and Bisker played it four-handed on piano, Zeniuk’s bass sax and the trumpet trading incisive riffage, down to a long, shimmery, misterioso interlude and finally out with a distantly clanging, tone-bending menace (how many times has the word “menace” appeared here? If nothing else, that explains this band). If you wish you’d caught this concert, Kotorino are playing the album release show for their highly anticipated new one on Sept 27 at around 9:30 at the Cameo Gallery with Gato Loco – who can be just as dark and entertaining – opening at around 8:30.

An Overlooked Lorca-Inspired Art-Rock Treasure from Rima Fand

Much as this blog’s raison d’etre is to keep an eye on what’s happening now, the past is littered with unfairly overlooked albums. One recent one, from 2011, is Rima Fand’s Sol, Caracol (Spanish for “Sun, Snail”). It comprises many of the songs from her theatrical project Don Cristobal: Billy-Club Man, which sets Federico Garcia Lorca poetry to frequently haunting, flamenco-tinged original music. This is the closest thing to an original soundtrack recording that exists, part dark flamenco rock, part noir cabaret, part chamber pop. Besides playing violin, the Luminescent Orchestrii co-founder distinguishes herself on mandolin and keyboards as well, accompanied by an all-star cast from many styles of south-of-the-border and Balkan music.

Although Don Cristobal and his sidekick Rosita are a Spanish version of Punch and Judy, there’s very little here that’s vaudevillian, consistent with Garcia Lorca’s full-fledged rather than one-dimensionally farcical depiction of the characters. The opening track, Midnight Hours, sets a dramatic lead vocal by David Fand over a spiky blend of the bandleader’s mandolin with Avi Fox-Rosen and Chris Rael’s guitars, a soaring choir behind them. You might call this art-flamenco. Lucia Pulido sings the dynamically charged Replica, Rima Fand doubling on mandolin and accordion. Cicada, a shivery, hypnotically suspenseful string piece, blends her violin with those of Sarah Alden and Not Waving But Drowning’s Pinky Weitzman and Matt Moran‘s vibraphone.

Justine Williams
sings the creepy, marching Rosita’s Song. The choir returns for Don Woodsman-Heart, a moody flamenco vamp lit up by Quince Marcum‘s alto horn, morphing into a dreaming, longing waltz. Pulido takes over the mic again on the terse, minimalistic Confusion over My Brightest Diamond cellist Maria Jeffers‘ bassline. David Fand returns to imploring lead vocals on the insistent Abre Tu Balcon (Open Up Your Balcony – that’s Don Cristobal imploring Rosita to have a word with him). They follow that with a cartoonish miniature, Te Mate and then Hat-Ache, another flamenco-tinged, angst-fueled, love-stricken ballad.

The album’s centerpiece is the macabre, carnivalesque Billy-Club Ballet, the bandleader on piano with guitar and percussion, Fox-Rosen’s jagged electric incisions adding menace up to a twinkling piano interlude and then back down. They follow a brief mandolin waltz with La Monja Gitana (The Country Nun), rising from another austere 3/4 rhythm, with a rich, bittersweet vocal from Rima Fand.

Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker a.k.a. innovative Balkan/Appalachian duo AE sing the sweeping, tensely moonlit Lullaby for a Sleeping Mirror, building to a lush, anxious round. The album ends with the towering overture La Cogida y la Muerte, sung pensively in English and Spanish by Abigail Wright, the acidic close harmonies of the string section contrasting with Katie Down‘s anxiously dancing flute and the distantly circling trumpets of Ben Syversen, Sarah Ferholt, JR Hankins and Ben Holmes. Surreal, sad, eclectic and vivid, it more than does justice to Lorca’s equally surreal, sad, ironic poetry. The album comes with a useful lyric booklet including English translations.

Jail Weddings’ Upcoming Album with the Impossibly Long Title Is Amazing

Jail Weddings do creepy noir bolero rock better than just about anybody. They also do it a lot differently, and more energetically, rising to a towering, Spectoresque splendor. As noir music goes, their new album Meltdown: A Declaration of Unpopular Emotion is luridly delicious. Frontman/guitarist Gabriel Hart has one of those shambling, stumbling Pete Doherty/Shane MacGowan deliveries, and also looks straight back to Nick Cave in places. But his songs draw on a vast range of influences from paisley underground psychedelia to the Balkans to circus rock. The album follows the trail of a relationship that’s doomed from the start: he’s obsessive and she’s increasingly disgusted by it, a dynamic that both Hart and frontwoman Jada Wagensomer work for as much black humor as raw angst.

The opening track, There Is a Distance sets the stage – it’s the most Cave-ish of the tracks. “It’s not the radiation that makes our hair fall out/It’s the deeper question we just won’t talk about,” Hart laments. May Today Be Merciful sounds like Steve Wynn, or Cave covering the Byrds, right down to the twelve-string guitar. The blend of voices between Wagensomer, Marianne Stewart and Kristina Benson is lush and otherworldly, with tinges of Bulgarian melody. Angel of Sleep is the first of the majestic bolero rockers, rising from a cynical girlie vocal choir to a series of mammoth crescendos with Hannah Blumenfeld’s strings and Marty Sataman’s organ going full blast with the guitars.

Why Is It So Hard to Be Good kicks off with a somber piano riff over Michael Shelbourn’s Atrocity Exhibition ish drums and then goes swinging, a tense mariachi rock tune, like Cave (yeah, him again) doing a late 60s Grass Roots hit. Summer Fades is one of the strongest tracks, a wickedly catchy, brooding folk-rock nuumber with a Watching the Detectives guitar break and a death obsession:

Who’ll be the first to admit
How cold we all look wearing shades?
Was every hole we dug in the sand
A secret demand for a shallow grave…
The gutter empties into the ocean
Summer fades

Wagensomer sings the bluesy noir anthem A Promise, rising to a breathtaking wail through a series of dramatic modulations fueled by Morgan Hart Delaney’s soaring bass and Sataman’s creepy piano. A wickedly cool Bulgarian vocal arrangement opens It’s Not Fair, which works its way from ba-bump cabaret to a phantasmagorically epic anthem. Do You Ever Get Tired of Keeping the Faith takes a a paisley underground anthem and enhances it with gothic art-rock piano and Celtic strings. “Can you see me on the tower with my artillery?Picking off those phony rebels, to infinity?” Hart demands.

You Are Never Going to Find Me is the girl’s response to the guy’s over-the-top ridiculousness, set to a lively, lushly arranged Irish ballad tune. Lyrically speaking, the creepiest and most cringe-inducing song here is Father’s Eyes, a lavish Nashville gothic-tinged account of a guy who hooks up with a girl who’s been raped by her father – and likes to relive the experience. It seems like a diversion from the plotline but it might not be.

The story comes into close focus with Obsession, which opens with a gospel sway and rises to another ba-bump, Spectoresque crescendo, twinkling electric piano mingling with spacy reverb guitar washes and austere violin. Party Girl works the same beat to a big, beefed-up bolero and lots of drama. The sarcastic Dead Celebrity Party goofs on trendoid namedropping over Sweet Jane riffage. Ending the album on predictably downcast note, Don’t Invite Me to Your Party brings to mind Spottiswoode at his most ornate, opening with somber solo piano and vocals, building to a Fairytale of New York-style duet between Hart and Wagensomer: “Just like the stars, we never come down til we burn out,” the two intone with a dead-cold glee. There are so many cool instrumental touches here that it would take pages to list them all: this is an album that takes days to get to know, and the better you know it, the better it sounds. It’s one of the best of 2013.

Amanda Palmer and Rosin Coven: Not Your Father’s Lincoln Center Concert

Yesterday evening was steampunk night at Lincoln Center Out of Doors. The Gatsby costume thing first reared its head among fans of the first wave of oldtimey bands around the turn of the century. Since then, it seems to have moved into the circus rock and cabaret territory formerly occupied by the goths. Except that you can buy eyeliner and black Lee nails at the dollar store. To look like Jay Gatsby (or Daisy – a lot of girls like to play dressup too), you pretty much need to be him. That crowd was up front, vocal and showing endless love for the bands. Behind them was a typical New York horde that had Amanda Palmer, who is New York to the core, completely flummoxed. More on that later.

Stunningly eclectic circus rock band Rosin Coven (as in group of witches who need that stuff for their bows) opened and were the musical highlight of the night. They are not the ideal of choice of band you want to open for you because they will upstage you and they did that to Palmer. But it was a brave and aptly cross-pollinational move for her: they host an annual Edwardian Ball, dedicated to Edward Gorey, in their native San Francisco, where they can return the favor. Although their songs are very theatrical, the eight-piece group let the drama in the music speak for itself. Frontwoman Carrie Katz joined voices with violinist Lila Sklar, running through rapidfire torrents of lyrics that more or less traced a seductive narrative that drew the crowd in even as the music turned ominous.

“You are entering the grounds of the Pagan Lounge,” Katz intoned as the brief, uneasy opening circus rock stomp got going. “Are you reveling yet?” The crowd roared their answer back. Tim O’Keefe’s ever-present, eerie vibraphone kicked off the second song, a noir hi-de-ho shuffle. Bassist Justin Katz’s burning bass chords opened the next one, a dark cabaret number. I Found the Gold, the opening track on their latest album, set the lead singer’s sultry vocals to a Bo Diddley beat, which went further into lurid boudoir territory with the song after that as the alto sax player built a red-neon wee-hours ambience. Cellist Beth Vandervennet joined forces with Sklar on a stalking, operatically-tinged tune that ended with a wry Beatles quote. Then they went back to a carnivalesque, Vera Beren-esque sway lit up by a searing Sklar solo, then the psychedelic, Henry Mancini-ish Vegas pop of Dybbuk Dirge. They wound up the set with Zookeeper’s Awakening, an uneasy waltz which was literally a carnival of animals – drunken ones, it seems.

“You look sleepy,” Palmer admonished the audience a bit later on. Behind the carnival of costumes, a considerably more diverse and somewhat older crowd sat, numbed by the tropical heat and humidity. Later on she mused that they seemed like an intellectual audience, and she threw herself into it – literally – to energize them, even going to the extent of tweaking the set list. Though it didn’t work to the extent she wanted, the crowd grew until the Damrosch Park space was packed. Palmer is one of this era’s most important songwriters, partly because she’s such a great tunesmith and lyricist when she wants to be, partly because she has such a sizeable audience and can galvanize them to the extent that she does, whether to push a political agenda or to pay her bills. Behind her, guitarist Chad Raines, bassist Jherek Bischoff and drummer Thor Harris played a theatrical take on four-on-the-floor stadium rock, sometimes evoking Aladdin Sane-era Bowie with hints of the corporate emo that Palmer was associated with before her highly publicized and ultimately triumphant break away from corporate record label hell.

They opened with a brief but towering art-rock overture and then launched into the taunting Do It with a Rockstar, Palmer wasting no time getting down into the audience and working the sarcasatic “I’ll be fine in a minute” mantra for all it was worth. By the time she began The Killing Type, stalking around the front of the stage, arm raised to the cumulo-nimbus skies, she was drenched in sweat, driving home the song’s anti-apathy stance with equal amounts muscle and finesse until she had the crowd singing along. Her former Dresden Dolls partner Brian Viglione – who’s now touring with the Violent Femmes – then took a cameo behind the kit for a savagely creepy version of the noir cabaret hit Missed Me.

From there Palmer bopped through a catchy 80s-pop tune, fought (and then eventually sang along with) the parade of sirens running up Columbus Avenue on the impressionistic glamrock of Astronaut, then switched to ukulele for a handful of tunes; the lighthearted, rap-flavored Map of Tasmania, the wry stream-of-consciousness showbiz culture musings of Gaga Palmer Madonna and then a long number that was more of a chronicle of sadness and personal setbacks than it was a song. By her account, the past year has been a brutally hard one, with death and illness among those close to her and a bad case of writer’s block. If this sad litany manages to jumpstart that part of her game, so much the better.

Palmer pulled herself together and brought the band back for a hard-hitting take of the death-obsessed anthem Lost, the savagely snide, politically-charged Leeds United and then encored with the Ukulele Song. If you don’t know it, it’s sort of this era’s Subterranean Homesick Blues or Anarchy in the UK. By Palmer’s accounting, if Sid Vicious had played uke instead of bass, Nancy would still be alive and he’d be singing sweet songs to her; Lizzie Borden, armed with a uke, would have transcended her Puritan parents’ attempts to crush her creative impulses and wouldn’t have given them 81 whacks; and the whole world would have gotten the point of John Lennon’s Imagine, if it had been recorded on a uke instead of a piano. Palmer messed up her chords right at the point where she was explaining how easy it is to play the uke and made herself laugh, something she’d been doing all night, not something you might expect from an act with such a bleak worldview. That she incorporates that vision into everything she does, even the songs that seem frivolous, makes her worth your time. You may not be in the cult but she’s someone you need to hear. You can get her latest album for free if you don’t have the money; this concert was also streamed at Lincoln Center’s new live video portal, and will be archived sometime in the future. If you want the link, bookmark this page and check back in a week or two.

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